A new Tasman Rugby initiative designed to keep young players in the game has been praised by some, but described as “bubble wrapping” that will only punish up and comers, by others.
The plan is designed to help prevent score blowouts in junior rugby which has been a “problem area,” according to age grade coordinator George Vance.
He says big score lines, bad sportsmanship, poor coach and side-line behaviour have all resulted in a “concerning drop off” in teenage numbers.
So in a bid to curb this trend, the TRU have made some radical changes to the junior competition. In a first for the country, a mercy rule will be implemented to avoid lop-sided games.
When a team takes a lead of 35 points, coaches must come together to discuss the game situation.
Once the lead hits 50, coaches must make changes or mix teams. Bonus points and points differential will also be scrapped.
George says the hope is the changes will bring enjoyment and excitement back into community rugby.
“These initiatives aim to encourage meaningful competition, sportsmanship and player development.”
The general consensus from junior rugby delegates is that the changes will benefit younger players.
Nelson junior advisory board member Bevan Muollo says the initiative can only help keep junior players in the game while improving the development of more advanced players.
He believes the initiative will strengthen the core values that children learn from sport, including building bonds, learning to trust, being reliable, resilient, honest and showing integrity.
“This will need to be accepted by both coaches on the day because when you’re on the losing side it’s always hard to accept the help, but as long as they look at it as a positive for the kids it will make them better coaches too.”
Mako head coach and former All Black Leon MacDonald says anything that makes the game more enjoyable for children is a good addition.
“Too many kids are giving the game up after being on the receiving end of some big loses every week.”
Former age grade coach Nathan Gargiulo says, ultimately, junior rugby should be about skill development and no one benefits from a 100-0 score line.
“In saying that, I still think it is important that we promote winning and teach younger players to deal with the emotions that come with winning and losing.”
Nathan says its success will ultimately rely on how individual coaches manage score blowouts.
He says the coach of a team that is being beaten consistently needs to find ways of allowing their team to feel a sense of success by having targets each week that aren’t focused on the scoreboard.
Master in charge of rugby at Nelson College Peter Grigg says, while there are often more “learnings” to a team in defeat than in a victory, continuous and large defeats could put kids off the game.
However, not all members of the rugby community are on board with the changes.
Jason Beard’s son plays under- seven rippa rugby and he believes the rule changes are “ridiculous”.
“That’s just bubble wrapping children and punishing the kids who are good at what they do.”
Jason says kids will not respond well to being taken off their own team.
“That’s negative for the whole team-building thing in its entirety, that’s the main point of kids’ rugby, to build that camaraderie.”
He says having a winner and a loser is just a fact of life.
“I’d like to know who dreamed this up and thought it was a good idea, it just seems mad.”
Lisa Trusler is new to the junior rugby coaching scene and believes the new plan will be detrimental to young players.
“Kids at this age don’t really care about the score, it’s all about getting out there and doing it, so I think they’re just making it harder in the long run.”
Lisa, who has just started a coaching role with her five-year-old son’s Nelson team, says the world is “so PC now” that kids aren’t allowed to lose.
“It doesn’t mean that they’re not playing properly or trying their hardest, but you can’t always win.”
She says being on the end of the occasional hiding builds resilience.
“Kids should be playing as a team rather than swapping from one team to the other just because they’re better.”
Lisa says her son just wants to get out there with his mates and won’t be put off by losing.
“I think it will make him stronger, will make him want to get out there and play harder the next week.”